by Lynn on October 3, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Plays until Nov. 6, 2022.

Written by Ian Shaw & Joseph Nixon

Directed by Guy Masterson

Designed by Duncan Henderson

Lighting by Jon Clark

Sound and original music by Adam Cork

Video Designer, Nina Dunn

Cast: Demetri Goritsas

Liam Murray Scott

Ian Shaw

Sometimes a fringe show should remain a fringe show and not try and bloat it up as if it was a major play. A case in point is The Shark is Broken, supposedly the back-story of making the blockbuster movie, Jaws.

The Story. It’s 1974. Martha’s Vineyard. Director Steven Spielberg is making a movie of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws, a gut-churning thriller about a Great White shark that is terrorizing the folks of a small sea-side resort when it isn’t ‘grazing’ on the extremities of some hapless swimmers who venture into its mandibles.

Spielberg’s creative folks have created three bigger than full-sized animatronic sharks for the movie and they aren’t working. The “model” sharks like fresh water but the saltwater of Martha’s Vineyard is gumming up the mechanical works of the models. It takes time to fix. The three main actors: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw spend their time drinking, playing cards, drinking, telling stories, whining, drinking and waiting for the shark(s) to be fixed so they can continue with the film. And drinking.

Production.  According to the play’s program, in 2017 Ian Shaw, son of the late actor, Robert Shaw, read his fathers drinking diary which he found “painful and very brave.” One thing led to another and Ian Shaw thought there was an interesting story behind the scenes of the making of the movie Jaws. He and his friend Joseph Nixon co-wrote the play for inclusion in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Which led to it being produced in the West End which has now toured to the Royal Alexandra Theatre with Ian Shaw playing his father, Robert Shaw, Demetri Goritsas playing Roy Scheider and Liam Murray Scott playing Richard Dreyfuss.

The curtain is up at the Royal Alexandra Theater so we can see a cross section of the ORCA, the boat that will be used to hunt the shark that is frightening the citizenry. The boat ‘floats’ in an animated expanse of lapping water—kudos to video designer, Nina Dunn. Over the course of the play there will be animated birds flying in the sky, stars twinkling, a shooting star and even a sailboat in the distance—that last is a cheeky reference to shots that were ruined when a sailboat sailed into the filming. This isn’t noted in the play but in the minute facts in the program and in other places that one researches to learn about what is not mentioned.

    In the interior of the boat is a curved bank of seats and a small table in front of the seats. When the play is about to begin the throbbing “boom-boom, boom-boom” of John Williams’ distinctive music booms out louder and louder, signaling (in the movie) the impending approach of the shark. I laugh out loud at the cheek again, of the reference to the film. We wait for the shark to jump up, but of course it doesn’t.

Demetri Goritsas as Roy Scheider, appears and sits on the bank of seats. He is thoughtful, curious, and is always reading the New York Times. He is followed by Liam Murray Scott as the anxious, lively, self-absorbed Richard Dreyfuss who is worried that he was bad as Duddy Kravitz in his last film. Dreyfuss is desperate to be a success, a movie star, to do Broadway and to do Shakespeare. Finally Ian Shaw appears as his father Robert Shaw. He is gruff, confident, funny, irritable because of the delays and because he doesn’t really like Dreyfuss and always wants a drink.

Because Ian Shaw has co-written the script with Joseph Nixon, Shaw has created the best part for himself. Robert Shaw was a fine actor a writer of books, screenplays and plays. He had a successful career in film, television and theatre. In accomplishment he towered over his co-stars, especially the needy Richard Dreyfuss. Shaw always belittled how unread or uninformed Dreyfuss was.  After one argument with Dreyfuss, Shaw tried to calm the waters by reciting a poem, the first two lines of which are “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state…” At the end of the moving poem Shaw said that he wrote that poem when he was 18. I’m sure that will be news to William Shakespeare. Perhaps that was Ian Shaw trying to get in a little joke as Robert Shaw at the expense of Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss who took it on faith that Shaw wrote the poem.

In another scene Robert Shaw complained at how lame a monologue was for his character. We hear the offstage voice of Steven Spielberg telling him to re-write it. That seemed odd. How can one fiddle with the screenwriter’s work? That’s a hole in Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s script that they didn’t explain that while Peter Benchley wrote the first draft of the movie, (and wasn’t interested in writing any more of it)  it was re-written later by another writer, so perhaps such liberties could be taken. It still needed a bit of an explanation.

While there are hints about the filming of Jaws, The Shark is Broken is not about those behind-the-scenes stories. It’s about how Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss pass the time while the sharks are being repaired. They drink, play card games talk about their lives, their disappointments and other ways to pass the time. Shaw talks about Ireland where he lived, and his nine children. Most of all they vent their frustration, the anxieties and they whine about their situation.  Occasionally they will be called ‘to the set’, leave that interior ‘room’, and then go out a door and climb up around the boat and disappear to where they are filming. But most of the time they are fighting boredom in the waiting. Director Guy Masterson directs scenes in silhouette in which their stance suggests boredom, frustration, perhaps being trapped.  

There are hints that Spielberg has continued to film, asking the actors to react to something that is happening unseen by the audience. There are also hints that the actors are not trapped on that boat. Robert Shaw in fact comments that he has played a round of golf on the mainland. One wonders quite frequently, ‘what is the point to this self-indulgent and ultimately frustrating exercise?’

Comment.  Should you have seen the movie first to ‘appreciate’ the play? Nope. So much has been written about the movie and John Williams’ ‘churning’ music is so burned into one’s memory whether you saw it or not, that while you might not know the character’s names, you know the actors playing the main leads.

Will you feel lost if you haven’t seen the film? Nope. I haven’t seen the film (don’t like horror movies) and was not lost, except to wonder why am I in the room with these whining, winging, drinking, complaining movie stars who ARE making the movie even though the shark doesn’t work. Why?

David Mirvish presents the Sonia Freedman Productions, Scott Landis production of:

Plays until: November 6, 2022

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, (no intermission)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Walter November 2, 2022 at 9:21 pm

I hope the actors of this play read this because Jaws is one of my favorite movies I think I’ve watched it more than a hundred times…
I’ve lost my father at an early age but not quite as early as Ian Shaw has…
I learned of the tension and abrasiveness between Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw through some writers but never knew the extent of it…
I enjoyed this play so much that the ending of Ian playing an ode to his father put a tear in my eye, just like watching the best part of Jaws live.
I was in a trance!
I’m glad they we’re given the standing ovation all three deserve.
Well done!
I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it wonderful.


2 Kathleen Huber August 4, 2023 at 11:41 am

I saw a preview of the upcoming Broadway production last night, and I’ve been grinning with pure joy ever since. Extraordinary to see three actors pouring their hearts and souls into performances while simultaneously giving near-perfect imitations of three OTHER actors. Incidentally, after the Shakespeare sonnet, Quint now adds “I wrote that when I was five years old.” Good re-write, and got a huge laugh.
Basically, a great time at the theatre. Bravo!